Wireless routers and adaptors

Wireless networking has come a long way in a short space of time. Originally only used by a select group of technologically motivated individuals, it is now commonplace in households across the UK. However, how do wireless routers and adaptors work and how should you choose between the systems on offer?

Wireless routers and adaptors

Whereas a standard modem allows you to connect one computer to the internet at a time, a wireless router allows you to connect several computers to the internet. The signals are ‘routed’ back and forth and the router itself is usually connected to a main PC via an Ethernet cable.

Data from the internet travels through the router’s antennas and are then broadcast to the wireless adaptor on a different computer or laptop. The wireless connection can reach any adaptor within range – which can make security a problem, with other users accessing your connection. For pointers on how to secure your wireless system, check out our wireless security guide.

Wireless adaptors are now usually inbuilt in most modern laptops. However, if your laptop does not have a wireless adaptor inbuilt, you will need to pick up a PCMCIA card – there should be a slot for this in the side of your laptop. If not, you can always use a USB adaptor.

There are many different standards of wireless routers and adaptors available, each linked with letters and numbers as follows:

  • 802.11 – The oldest form of wireless.
  • 802.11b – An update to the original standard. Can move data at a maximum rate of 11Mb but typically has speeds at around 5Mb.
  • 802.11g – A further update and the most common form of wireless has a top speed of 54Mb but typically transfers data at 12Mb.
  • 802.11n – Has faster speeds and is generally more reliable. Has a top speed of 540Mb and typically transfers at 200Mb. Available in routers from 2008.

Setting up a wireless router can be a difficult process and you should look for an installation CD or quick setup option with any router you buy. If you have an ADSL connection you will need a wireless router with an ADSL modem built-in (it should indicate this on the box). By contrast, if you have a cable connection you will need a router that doesn’t have ADSL on the box.

There will be slots in the back of the wireless router for several different computers and your first job will usually be to set up a direct connection using an Ethernet or network cable. To do this you will need to contact your broadband provider with your username and password, and get any network setting they may have.

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